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DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Management Software

John Butcher (G3LAS) on April 11, 2003
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DXLab - Possibly the Best Free Logging and Station Management Software

by John Butcher, G3LAS

In the last few years, the rapid increase in the use of computer aids to operating has been accompanied by a similar increase in the number of software packages available. The range is enormous, from very simple loggers which do little more than act as substitutes for a paper log, to highly sophisticated and sometimes quite expensive programs which not only keep a log but also control transceiver frequency and mode, track operating awards, monitor DX clusters, decode and generate data mode signals and even rotate beam aerials to a desired target signal.

Many operators zero in on a particular program quite quickly, without carrying out a full survey of the alternatives. They may then become hooked on that program, assuming that its facilities suit their own preferences and operating habits. It is then relatively difficult to persuade them to change, even if another product promises considerably more functionality. To be fair, it can be a daunting task to convert several thousand QSO records to a new format, even if quite elaborate export and import facilities are built into the software. Data structures and field definitions are seldom the same for two different programs resulting in either the loss of data or a considerable degree of manual editing.

It is therefore a good idea to look carefully at the possibilities before `computerising' and, if possible, to look ahead to a day when one's requirements might expand in the light of a change in operating patterns. It follows that a comprehensive and versatile program is a good investment, provided that it is not correspondingly complicated to use.

The other important criteria for choosing a package are the quality of the support and developmental backup, and, of course, the cost.

DXLab is the generic name for a suite of programs which can either be used individually or as an integrated whole, encompassing most of the likely requirements for logging and station control. It is written by Dave Bernstein, AA6YQ, and is downloadable free from the Internet. At present, the component programs are:

DXKeeper - for basic logging and award tracking.

SpotCollector - for receiving and sending DX spots from a cluster, using either a TNC and rf link or by a Telnet interface to the Internet.

DXView - for displaying world and country maps with a variety of information such as country boundaries, CQ and ITU zones, greyline plots, DXCC information, plotting of incoming cluster spots etc.

WinWarbler - for decoding and generating data mode signals. At present it covers only RTTY and PSK, but CW is in the development pipeline. The program links via a sound card to the station transceiver.

PropView - for calculating propagation probabilities for a desired path, given input data for solar indices etc.

CI-V Commander - for computer control of transceiver functions. Depending on the type of transceiver used, this might include main and sub-VFO frequencies, mode, selectivity, memories, S-meter readout etc.

Pathfinder - providing access via the Internet to a variety of address and QSL manager databases including QRZ, Buckmaster, many national indexes and amateur listings.

DXLauncher - for starting up and closing down the user's choice of DXLab programs by a single action.

System requirements

The programs are all Windows-based and will, in principle, run on all Windows platforms from 95 onwards. However, some of them make reasonably heavy demands on specific system resources, so a little care is needed. Certainly if you intend to run several of the components simultaneously, which you will in order to realise the maximum functionality, a reasonable amount of RAM is required, say, 256k or more. This is to some extent dependent on the operating system, since the various flavours of Windows manage resources somewhat differently. Processor speed does not seem to be a critical factor. Users of Windows ME should note that this OS is specifically not supported. The programs will run under ME but it has proved sufficiently problematical for Dave to disclaim any responsibility for its use. When running several of the programs together, undoubtedly the best options are either Windows 2000 or XP.

Functionality

It is virtually impossible to give a convincing description of a software system such as this in words. Each of the component programs is comprehensive, stable and surprisingly simple to use.

Without doubt, the main feature of DXLab is the integration of the components and the fact that you can run as few or as many as you wish, given the system constraints mentioned above, without any special setup changes in so doing. The links are too numerous for me to describe them all. However, let's imagine a typical operating scenario.

An incoming cluster spot generates a warning audible alarm because the dx entity has not previously been worked. The spot line on the screen is also coloured red to denote the needed entity. Clicking on the spot line transfers the dx callsign to the log, sets the transceiver frequency and mode and rotates the beam to the desired heading. The call is also transferred to DXView where the location is plotted on the map and the position of the grey line can be seen. The DXCC parameters, dx local time and other information can be read from the DXView screen which shows also the QSL status of that country for each band of interest. The callsign has also been transferred to the PropView input window so another click will generate an estimate of the propagation probability for the path.

All this might seem very complicated and confusing but it isn't - honestly! The operator can choose to see and use as much or as little of this information as he/she wishes.

It is apparent that DXLab is primarily intended for dx-operating. It does not claim to be crafted for slick contesting, nor for the rag chewer. However, it is easy to keep it as a primary logging system and import contest logs, probably in ADIF format, from more specialised programs as the occasion demands.

Like most good logging programs, DXLab has peripheral functions for QSL label printing, log import and export, award tracking etc. In each case these may not be individually the best available, but they are all more than satisfactory for normal requirements. Unusually, it is possible to send e-qsls as required at the click of a mouse.

Manuals

The web site has full instructions for downloading and installing the programs. There is also a development history file. Each program has a comprehensive on-line help file which is context sensitive and which is kept up-to-date in spite of the rapid pace of development.

Support and Development

Dave's method of support and user feedback, while not unique, is quite unusual. It relies heavily on a web-based reflector, where users report and discuss problems and suggest desirable enhancements. This approach can sometimes be somewhat frustrating if the response from the program developer(s) is slow and/or overly opinionated. The fact that it is outstandingly successful for DXLab is due entirely to Dave's attitude to his constituents and his phenomenal work rate in implementing bug fixes and new developments.

It is not uncommon to receive a reply to a query within minutes or a minor update within a few hours of a report being sent. The most elementary query is always treated with complete courtesy and a comprehensive reply provided.

The result of all this is a software system development which is very much driven by the needs and opinions of the users. In addition, the implementation of upgrades is very fast. In a typical week one might see as many as half a dozen new versions of the various programs made available for download. This might be thought confusing for users, but in fact, you can always choose whether or not a particular new version offers something desirable for you. If not, you can miss it out and wait for the next. If you choose to upgrade, the simple download and installation process can be carried out in a few minutes. File sizes are small enough for a 56k modem to be perfectly adequate.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of DXLab is that it is all free! Add to that the fact that Dave has a very demanding “proper” job as well and it becomes incredible. Nevertheless, DXLab has been going for several years and shows no sign of slowing down.

Conclusion

Some diehards might say that this highly computerised approach to operating takes all the challenge out of chasing dx. This may be true to an extent, but I have no doubt that there is plenty of scope left for skill and technique. The software can only put you in the arena at the right time and the right place. It will not (yet) crack the pileup for you or kill the charging lion.

To refer back to the title of this article, DXLab may well be the best available free software suite for logging and station management. It must surely be the best supported and the most responsive to user input. To describe it adequately in detail is impossible. Why not download it and give it a try? The source URL is www.qsl.net/dxlab .

Member Comments:
This article has expired. No more comments may be added.
 
DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Management  
by WR9A on April 11, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Bravo! I must concur with this post 100%. I have only started to use the many utilities of DXLab within the past few months, but I am hooked. It performs as described, and the author of the program is quick to fix bugs and eager to implement new features that are suggested by the email reflector participants!
 
RE: DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Managem  
by N3HKN on April 11, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent set of programs that play perfectly together or individually - your choice. Support is 100% and FAST! I have used DX Lab for about a year.
Dick N3HKN
 
DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Management  
by WB2JEP on April 11, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
I am also a relatively new user and this is some set of programs! I have tried various software and this is some of the best out there. Best of all is the price! It certainly gets the job done. Thank you Dave.

73 DE Al
WB2JEP
 
DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Management  
by EI4HQ on April 11, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
I'm not familiar with the s/w in question and wouldn't dare cast any aspersions on same.

However I would make one general observation...

For many it is a 'feature' of software if it doesn't have too many 'features' - feature fever is an ever present blight where software is concerned. Many experienced programmers have learned this lesson the hard way. Amateur radio has lots of hobby programmers - many of them have produced absolutely fantastic systems... but just remember folks: KISS is sometimes the best approach...

Cormac, EI4HQ
A jaded programmer (but still enthusiastic radio ham)
 
DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Management  
by KG6IHY on April 11, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
I'd really love to use dx lab since it is both full functional and free. The problem is that keyboard cw is a must for me. I posted a message on the reflector group asking for keyboard cw and was told it would be added "in a few days". That was several months ago. When will keyboard cw be available as part of the package?

Mike Hoffman KG6IHY
 
RE: DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Managem  
by AA8RF on April 12, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
256K? Time warp me back to 1981. I bet the correct memory recommendation is at least 256 *Megs*.

73,
-Jim
 
DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Management  
by K4IA on April 12, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
While I applaud the effort that is going on here . . .

I have never been able to get this thing to work. I use a state of the art computer system and Windoze XP but am constantly frustrated by error messages, crashes and general imcompatability issues.

I am sure part of the problem is the way this program is delivered. You have do download and install numerous modules plus their updates. I'll bet a full install would take over 20 downloads. Just try to read and understand the instructions. You need a written log of what you have done and quite a bit of time to go through all the steps. You'll end up going crazy.

Then, when you download and install the modules, they get spread out all over your hard drive instead of staying in one neat folder so you can see what you have. I tried to have them all under one folder but then one program couldn't find the other because it was looking in the "default" folder. I never could get the Launcher to work so opening each individual module is an exercise in frustration.

What this mess needs is one comprehensive download that will install neatly and efficiently. If the developers want to offer individual modules for experimentation and development, fine but give the rest of us a break.
 
RE: DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Managem  
by AA6YQ on April 12, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Sorry that you've been unsuccessful with DXLab, Craig. I checked the archives, but could find no direct email messages or DXLab reflector posts from you describing the problems you've described. I'd be happy to work through these issues with you.

At this moment, there are exactly two reported but uncorrected defects among 8 DXLab applications; one involves the keyboard invocation of user-defined transceiver commands from WinWarbler, and the other involves transceiver control when running certain Japanese versions of Windows. Any reported defect that impedes operation is quickly corrected, typically within 24 hours.

As to the number of downloads required to install DXLab, no one should attempt to simultaneously intall all 8 DXLab applications. Start with the one that interests you the most or solves your biggest problem; download it, and get comfortable with it. Then choose the next one. There are advantages and disadvantages to an array of interoperating applications vs. a single monolithic application; the overriding driver from my perspective is that its much easier for users to learn one application at a time than to deal with the steep learning curve associated with a large multifunction application. This approach also permits a much more responsive and higher quality development process, as individual applications can be independently updated and tested. Optimizing the work of multiple developers was not a driver; there is only one developer.

DXLab installs its applications in the folders you specify. If you'd like them "all in one place so you can see what you have", create a folder called DXLab, and place each DXLab application in a sub-folder of your DXLab folder.

DXLab applications do not rely hard-wired filesystem locations for interoperation, so you are free to place these folders wherever you like.

I hope these points will convince you to give DXLab another try, Craig, but one application at a time.

73,

Dave, AA6YQ

 
DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Management  
by KC9AAE on April 13, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Wow, great news for those of you that run Windows, but how about support for Linux? This isn't any kind of OS debate here, just a simple question. Flame messages go to /dev/null.

Dana
 
RE: DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Managem  
by AA6YQ on April 13, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Had Delphi/Kylix been available when I began working on DXLab in 1994, I would have chosen it over Visual Basic, and DXLab would today be running on Linux as well as Windows. Since DXLab is developed in Visual Basic, it won't be available on Linux until someone creates versions of Visual Basic, its professional control suite, and the Apex TrueDBGrid control that target Linux, or until someone builds a practical Windows emulator for Linux.

If you can accomplish or provide either of those, I'll gladly release DXLab for Linux.

73,

Dave, AA6YQ

 
RE: DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Managem  
by N2TQZ on April 17, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
I agree that a comprehensive installation would be valuable for those not so familiar with windows computing, however it's a small trade off to get this wonderful suite of programs for free!

I've been using SpotCollector and DXView for a couple of months, and I love them. I like being able to filter DX spots by origin and band, so that I see only the ones that are important to me. I've just upgraded from Technician to Extra, so don't have much experience with DXKeeper yet, but I've played with it a bit and it sure is simple enough to log a qso.

WinWarbler will probably be the next one I try, as I'm itching to give RTTY a go.

Cheers,
Steven N2TQZ/AE
 
RE: DXLab Possibly the Best Free Station Managem  
by KB3JNR on May 9, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Well my answer on the Linux question is PHP/MySQL running through the native Apache server. Hit the logging page with Mozilla and type away. My prototype is about as primitive as it gets, and needs a lot more work, but once I figure out how to design in some extra features that I want, it might be useful for someone else.

73
 
Its a "roll your own" collection.  
by WB4M on February 12, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
I agree, it is probably the best. I have used it for quite a while and I especially like the ease of uploading and downloading to both LOTW and eQSL, and keeping those 2 up to date.
Like Dave was saying, download only those sections you are interested in and get familiar with each. I do not use all of them, and don't use WinWarbler because I prefer another program for the digital modes. I have seen similar programs sell for $90 to $120 dollars, and Dave could sell DXLabs easily. A fantastic program with equally fantastic support, and its all FREE. What more could you ask for, other than having Dave operate your station for you?!?!

 
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